Editor’s Note: This article was updated Oct. 20 to include information about the Department of Education’s Title IX investigation.
WACO—The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights has initiated an investigation of Baylor University. The action follows a complaint filed by the university’s former Title IX coordinator, who previously investigated reports of sexual abuse, an ongoing situation that led to the departure of Baylor’s president, head football coach and athletic director.
Patty Crawford, Baylor’s first full-time Title IX coordinator, resigned Oct. 3 and went on national television to air her grievances.
Crawford’s complaint alleging Baylor’s non-compliance with Title IX—the federal law that forbids discrimination based upon sex—triggered the Office of Civil Rights’ investigation, reported Dorie Nolt, a department spokesperson.
“Consistent with federal privacy statutes, OCR typically does not identify the specific parties, including complainants, involved in our civil rights cases,” Nolt said in a statement. “In this instance, the complainant has given permission for OCR to identify her and has spoken publicly about her complaint.”
Launch of the investigation “in no way implies that OCR has made a determination on the merits of the case,” Nolt said, classifying the office as “a neutral fact-finder.”
Meanwhile, Baylor’s interim president, David Garland, responded the university “will cooperate fully” with the investigation.
“Baylor University has placed a priority on ensuring the safety and wellbeing of our students,” the university said in a statement released after the OCR announced its investigation. “Last year, we engaged in a rigorous assessment, the results of which were shared publicly in May 2016, and we have committed to implementing the recommendations from the Pepper Hamilton investigation adopted by the board of regents in May. Our efforts to increase awareness, improve prevention through training and education, and establish policies, procedures and practices that fully support the needs of both complainants and respondents as they move through the Title IX process, have established a firm foundation for our Title IX Office.
“Our work continues. Progress has been made on every front outlined in the recommendations. Baylor University’s Title IX Office has increased in size and resources—now among the largest in the Big 12—and has reviewed and improved its policies and procedures; our Counseling Center has grown and developed new expertise and policies for working with students in need; the Department of Public Safety has developed new partnerships and protocols with Title IX and received training in trauma-informed investigations; and the Athletics Department has new policies for transfer student-athletes, drug testing and student-athlete conduct. A complete look at our progress may be reviewed at www.baylor.edu/rtsv/progress. We will work with OCR to detail these efforts for their review.”
A few days earlier, during the first homecoming weekend since Baylor became embroiled in the sexual violence controversy, the chair of the board of regents issued a statement acknowledging the public’s desire for “greater transparency,” but a homecoming parade entry not-so-subtly questioned the board’s intentions.
“We believe passionately in the importance of integrity and clarity. Those values are at the core of our faith and our university,” said Ronald Murff of Dallas, chair of the board of regents.
“We know that many people have questions about decisions made over the past weeks and months. They want additional details and greater transparency, and they deserve that. We continue to look for ways to share more information while remaining true to our commitment to protect the survivors and spare them additional suffering. The board is committed to following through.”
A university-issued news release cited the board’s “commitment to rebuild trust with the Baylor family, community and the public.”
Some observers noted the university’s need to “rebuild trust” literally was on parade homecoming weekend. During the annual homecoming parade, the NoZe Brotherhood—a secret satirical society that has a decades-long, on-again, off-again history of acceptance by the university administration—drove a pickup truck dragging a rug, while brotherhood members frantically tried to sweep things under it.
Last fall, regents hired the Philadelphia-based Pepper Hamilton law firm to investigate how the school handled reports of sexual violence after some Baylor Bears football players were convicted of sexual assault.
The regents cited a “fundamental failure” to handle sexual assault complaints appropriately as reason to remove Ken Starr as university president and Art Briles as head football coach. The board also sanctioned Athletic Director Ian McCaw, who subsequently resigned.
In August, Interim President David Garland reported Baylor had completed or made significant progress on more than three-fourths of the 105 recommendations from Pepper Hamilton.
Garland noted Baylor doubled the size of its counseling center staff, expanded its Title IX office, created a 24-hour crisis hotline, implemented a centralized reporting system and developed a webpage to make reporting easier.
After Crawford’s resignation, Baylor subsequently appointed Kristan Tucker as her replacement, and named attorney Doug Welch as the university’s chief compliance officer.